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10 Low-Cost Ways to Make Your Home Easier and Safer to Live In

Remodeling a house to make it safer and more user-friendly can run to tens of thousands of dollars. But I’ve found clever ways to improve and update your home without spending much…


  • Replace round doorknobs, which are difficult to grasp and turn, with lever-style handles that you push down to open. Most of the time, the lever handles can be attached to the existing latch mechanism already on the door. You can do the job yourself with just a screwdriver. Also, consider replacing cabinet door and drawer knobs with easy-to-grasp C- or D-shaped handles.
  • Cost: About $25/lever and $5/handle. Available at home-improvement centers.

  • Switch to rocker light switches. They are on/off switches that rock back and forth when pressed. They are larger and easier to operate, and many people find them more attractive than the standard, small flip switches used in most homes. Rocker switches let you turn on a light with your elbow or fist if you’re entering a room when your hands are full, and they’re easier to find in the dark.
  • Cost: About $3 per light switch. Available at home-improvement centers.

  • Raise the position of some electrical outlets. Wall outlets that are close to the floor can be hard to reach and inconvenient for plugging in appliances that you use intermittently, such as vacuums, heating pads and chargers for phones and laptops. Use those low outlets for lamps and other devices that you rarely unplug. Hire an electrician to raise other outlets at least 27 inches off the floor. They’ll still be inconspicuous but much more accessible.
  • Cost: Typically $250 and up to move half a dozen outlets.

  • Use remote controls for more than TVs. They can operate window coverings, such as drapes and blinds, so you avoid stretching and straining, and let you control interior and exterior lights from your car or from within the home to prevent you from tripping in the dark. My favorite: Lutron AuroRa (888-588-7661,
  • Cost: The AuroRa entry system starts at around $800 and provides wireless house-lighting control for up to five dimmers that can be operated from the car or the bedside. Online retailers, such as Home Depot and Amazon, offer it at a significant discount.

  • Create “wider” doorways. Residential building codes and home builders don’t consider the needs of older people who may need more than the standard 32-inch doorway, especially if they use a wheelchair or walker. Actually widening a doorway can be expensive and impractical, especially if it’s along a weight-bearing wall.
  • Instead: Replace your standard door hinges with expandable “offset” hinges. These special hinges allow the door to close normally. But upon opening, they swing the door clear of the door frame by an extra two inches. This lets you use the entire width of the doorway when you enter or exit.

    Cost: About $20 for a set of two door hinges. Available at home-improvement stores. A handy person can install these hinges because they fit in the existing holes in your door frame. Otherwise, a carpenter will charge about $100/hour.

  • Add a second handrail to staircases. It’s easier and safer to climb and descend when you can use both hands. Adding an extra handrail is an inexpensive and easy way to increase safety. Make sure both handrails are at the same height and between 30 and 34 inches above the front edge of the step. Also, for maximum safety, handrails should extend about six inches beyond the top and bottom steps if possible.
  • Cost: About $85 to $250 for each new handrail plus carpenter installation. Available at home-improvement stores.


  • Lower your microwave. Many home builders, contractors and home owners like to save space by mounting microwave ovens above the stove or high on a wall. This position is hazardous because it requires you to reach above your head to get hot foods or forces you to balance on a stool.
  • Better: If your existing microwave is on the wall, build a shelf under it where you can rest hot foods after they finish cooking. Or choose a new model with a tray feature that slides out and is easier to reach.

    Example: The Sharp Insight Pro Microwave Drawer Oven installs just beneath your countertop. The entire oven slides open, drawer-style, giving you access to the cooking compartment from above.

    Cost: About $650 to $850 for the microwave and $150 and up for carpenter installation.

  • Install a pullout kitchen faucet. Lugging heavy pots of water to the stove can be difficult and even dangerous. Many plumbing manufacturers now offer kitchen faucets featuring high-arc, pullout spouts. You can remove the spout and use it as a sprayer hose to fill pots within three to five feet of the stove.
  • Cost: About $150 plus plumber installation. Available at home-improvement stores.

  • Install a pull-down shelving system inside your kitchen wall cabinets. Top shelves in cabinets are difficult to reach. This simple device rests in your upper cabinet until you grab a handle on the shelf frame. A set of three or four shelves swings out of the cabinet and down toward you. The shelves lock in place so you can get the item you need. Afterward, the whole unit swings back into place.
  • My favorite: Rev-A-Shelf’s chrome pull-down shelving system for 24- and 36-inch cabinets. You can do the installation yourself.

    Cost: About $300 (800-626-1126,


    Add upscale grab bars near toilets and tubs. Some people have avoided installing grab bars in their bathrooms because they look too institutional. Now, there are much more attractive versions. Brushed nickel or oil-rubbed bronze grab bars by Moen are designed to match other Moen bath accessories and faucets for a coordinated look. The grab bars meet all federal government guidelines. They have a stainless steel core and are 1¼ inches in diameter, making them easy to hold.

    Cost: About $25 to $70 for the bar. Available at home-improvement stores. You can install them yourself, but it requires drilling holes in the wall.

    Source: Tom Kraeutler, a former professional home inspector and contractor in New York City. He is host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated radio show on home improvement broadcast to more than three million listeners. He is also the home improvement editor for AOL.
    Date: March 1, 2009 Publication: Bottom Line Personal
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